For years Apple has insisted that touchscreens are for smartphones and tablets, not laptops. But according to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple officials may have changed their views: the company is said to be working on MacBook Pro laptops with touchscreen OLED displays that could launch in a few years.

While some folks might see that as an about face, there are plenty of reasons that the move makes more sense for Apple now than it would have in the past.

This is what Dall-E came up with when I asked for a picture of a MacBook Pro with an OLED touchscreen display

Thirteen years ago Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said touchscreen notebooks were “ergonomically terrible,” because “touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical” and that your arm would get tired if you had to reach up to touch the display.

At the time he got plenty of criticism from those who pointed out that touchscreens don’t necessarily replace trackpads or keyboards on laptops, so it’s not like you’d be lifting your arm all day. And he was also clearly ignoring the possibility of convertible notebooks that could also be used in tablet mode.

But it also made plenty of sense for Apple to resist putting touchscreens on its laptops at the time, because the company had launched its first touchscreen tablet the same year, and the iPad was running a modified version of the mobile iPhone operating system rather than the desktop operating system that powers Apple’s Mac computers. Not only did Apple want to keep those product lines separately in order to sell customers two devices instead of one, but the company also had two different visions for how apps should look and function: desktop apps were designed for keyboard and mouse or trackpad input and mobile apps were designed for touch.

Things have changed since over the past decade though. The lines between desktop and mobile have gotten blurrier. Many modern apps, websites, and web apps are designed to work well on small screens or large, with or without touch. That means they can shift their layouts between multi-column or single-column views depending on screen size. Menus, buttons, and other navigation elements are large enough to touch with your fingers.

Meanwhile mobile devices have gotten increasingly powerful and software developers have taken advantage of that fact to bring the sort of apps and games to smartphones and tablets that would have once been reserved for laptops and desktops.

Then Apple went and blurred the lines itself a few times. The company added support for running iOS apps on macOS after it began shipping Macs with ARM-based chips. But the experience of running an app built for touchscreen devices on a non-touch laptop is rather wonky since it requires extra steps like pressing and holding the Option key to use a trackpad as a virtual touchscreen.

A few years ago Apple even started releasing iPad Pro tablets with the exact same processor used in the latest Mac computers, prompting me to wonder why the heck you could run iOS apps on a Mac, but you couldn’t run macOS on an iPad. The only reason I could come up with at the time was that Apple didn’t want to give iPad customers one less reason to buy a MacBook.

So what’s changed? Not much, really. But while Apple has a reputation for delivering game-changing hardware, the company often does that by moving slowly to adopt new technologies. Apple wasn’t the first company to release an MP3 player, but the iPod line of devices quickly became nearly synonymous with the space. The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone and the iPad wasn’t the first tablet, but they quickly became some of the most popular.

PC makers have been offering touchscreen laptops for years, and apple has had the benefit of watching the space from the sidelines… and dabbling in bringing touch to Macs with the introduction of a Touch Bar for MacBook Pro laptops in 2016 (it was discontinued with the launch of 2021 models).

At the very least, bringing touchscreens to future MacBooks would make it a lot easier to use iOS apps on Apple laptops. But a growing number of websites, web apps, and native apps would also probably play well with touch.

One thing Apple appears unlikely to do anytime soon is merge its operating system: Bloomberg reports that Apple still plans to use iPadOS for iPads and macOS for Macs.

via Ed Bott and Bloomberg

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  1. People need to step back, and think about the product. A touchscreen is better if it is ergonomic to use.

    The best scenario to add touchscreen to OS X, would be to have a large iMac that sits on a desk. However, you can pull the display down so that is swivels lower towards the desk, on an angle, so that it becomes trivial to interact with the display using your hands. Microsoft made this, and it’s fantastic, it is a very expensive and niche device only for businesses called the Surface Studio 2+. Arguably, iMac would be better at this due to, firstly being a more mainstream product, the iOS App support, and since the conversion into macOS which has made the Overall UI more like the iPad.

    The second scenario that works well to add touchscreen to OS X, would be to have something like the Macbook Air 11, with a 360′ hinge. This would make it a fairly light and portable tablet, which has a Yoga style use, and a keyboard that’s much better than the iPad Pro (it’s so flimsy when resting on your lap).

    Where it doesn’t make sense, is a big and heavy MacBook Pro 16inch, or a non-convertible or non-360′ device, or a Mac Mini (External display via 50in TV with built-in touchscreen). So I believe if Apple is going to make a “Touchscreen Mac” they are probably going to fumble the execution, or it can be an added extra input which won’t be useful or used on certain devices, or they may think of a selective rollout for certain devices only.

  2. My Wife and I have touchscreen laptops, but we don’t use that feature that much. Also if apple release that touchscreen MacBook, it will just compete with their iPad pro, wish they released a variant of macOS for the iPad pro

    1. I really just wish they’d let me dock my iPad into a keyboard/mouse base unit and use MacOS when docked — undock for iPadOS. My iPad already has the same processor as the Macbook, so why not. They could even have the bases give extended battery and storage for MacOS usage.

      1. Why not? Because then you wouldn’t have to buy a Macbook to get the desktop experience, that’s why not.

        1. To be fair, you could get rid of all three devices. There’s actually no need for an iPhone 13 Mini, iPad Mini, MacBook Pro. You can do all of that with a “phablet” and the best one was from Razer.

          Despite it’s shortcomings they had a brilliant concept: standalone phone (Razer Phone 2), also a Pocketable Gaming Console (JungleCat), also a Home Gaming Console (Pro Dock + Wolverine), also a Tablet (Project Linda), and also a Laptop (Project Linda).

          We saw some others attempt this like ASUS (Padphone/Tabphone) and Motorola (Atrix) and few others in other ways.

  3. Why are people viewing these as either-or choices? I want it ALL!

    I want gestures on my screen AND I want shortcut keys from my keyboard and a mouse pointer and game controllers!
    (- and I still want a command line for automating tasks with commands not just a GUI screen – Apple!)

    Surely the touchscreen complements other input devices, it doesn’t replace them?

  4. This is going to be a fairly large task for Apple, simply because they’ve waited too long. It’s not just as simple as implementing the touchscreen hardware, and making sure it has a working driver.

    Apple has designed many aspects of MacOS around the mouse and keyboard. For example, in MacOS you will occasionally encounter a settings button that requires you to hold the Option-key on the keyboard while clicking a button, in order to unlock some extra/advanced setting. The user experience would be terrible, and I’m sure Apple will want to redesign this.

    Apple has also encouraged this kind of UI design to 3rd party developers for a long time. If Apple wants to roll out a touchscreen for MacOS, they need to redesign many parts of MacOS, and also encourage 3rd party developers to undo their implementations of Apple’s UI standards.

    I’m personally not interested in touchscreen for laptops. However, I’m excited about it, because it could result in a MacOS tablet some day.

  5. Personally, I wont buy a laptop which doesn’t have a touch screen. It adds so much more useability, that once you’ve used one you don’t want to live without it even though I use the mouse a higher percentage of the time.

    For Apple, when they added functionality to start an app on one device and continue using it on another device, they should have already realised that all the ancillary features need to be supported on both devices as well.
    Good to see that Apple are belatedly catching up with users (again!).

  6. I’ve had 2 touchscreen laptops. I rarely ever used the touchscreens. I don’t like the extra cost, extra weight and lower battery life. I think it’s great that Macbooks and Chromebooks do not require touchscreens, like the infamous Microsoft Windows 8 minimum system requirements. I just bought a new Chromebook on Black Friday with NO touchscreen for $80. The same Chromebook with a touchscreen would cost double!

  7. I still remember how Apple was ridiculing Samsung for releasing phones with large screens. Until they had to shut up and follow the trend. Or how they were pressing on keeping iOS and OSX UI different. Unless in last update they just took all iPadOS screens and design elements. It was oblivious like 5 years ago that OSes and underlying code base will converge, I even had iOS UI classes and system APIs implementation for OSX in 2010 so I only need to write code once. Now touch screen even on laptop is a must since most of the sites and apps now share UI with tablets and phones, and basically more comfortable to use with a touch input.
    Speaking of touch screens, best approach IMHO is a tablet with detachable keyboards like Lenovo Duet series, when keyboard can also work over BT. I use tablet with touch and pen most of the time, but when I need to type a lot of text or work a bit (I have Windows 11 one), I just turn Bluetooth on the type cover without even attaching it to the tablet, like one would use wireless keyboard with a TV. I’d love to have ‘hard hinge’ mode though, as on old surface. When I want large screen, I start casting to my TV and use same keyboard while tablet resting next to be on a sofa. So, to put it short, I’d love to have OSX on iPad instead, given that price of M1 iPads with official Apple keyboard is bigger than mac air anyway, and it will not hurt sales that much (except of ppl buying only one device instead of two maybe), but adding touch to mac is also a good step forward.

  8. Adding touchscreens to laptops never made sense, hell this was Apple’s whole idea behind the iPad and they got it right.

    It sounds like Apple is trying to jumpstart something, but may very well end up with their own Win 8 disaster.

    1. Doesn’t immediately make much sense, without a 360 degree hinge, but I still find myself using the touchscreen on my laptop even without flipping the screen over, if it would be faster than using the mouse. I usually have to mess with the UI scaling and arrangement a little bit before everything works smoothly, but it’s certainly possible in KDE.
      How much sense it makes depends entirely on software available to it. I can, for example, imagine someone who installs controller apps for a bunch of IoT devices (that you probably don’t need) on a laptop just so they can be used without having to reach for the phone.
      Personally, I like occasionally using the touch screen for basic navigation. It’s not totally necessary but it’s nice to have. But it also depends on the screen size. To get precision in the middle of the screen, I have to put my fingers on top of the screen and reach down with my thumb. I can just reach the bottom of my 13″ 16:9 screen this way. Someone with smaller hands and a 15″ 3:2 screen will have a harder time of that.

      Apple is never going to give it a 360 degree hinge though. That would eat into iPad sales.

    2. The clue is in the name!
      When you’re using your laptop on your lap (say), the mouse is impractical and touchscreen far superior to the trackpad in every way.

      Your argument could stand up for Desktops – but if you wanted that, you’d have saved yourself money buying a desktop instead of the more expensive laptop equivalent!

      1. I’ve found the trackpad is still better for precision, but it hurts your wrist less. I might favor the touchscreen even more though if I didn’t have the Thinkpad’s pointing stick, which I often fall back on if I’m clicking and dragging but my finger is at the edge of the trackpad.

        1. Hmmm, it’s curious you find a trackpad more precise, as the touchscreen is simply a trackpad thats 10 times bigger and in the intuitive place instead of 30 cm away? (and you can switch the pointer on for arrows, if you prefer them).

          …However touchscreen laptops keep a trackpad for those such as yourself. -The best user-oriented devices make all options available.

          1. Well, when I’m dialing in the exact spot I want to move the cursor to, I don’t slide my finger around the trackpad, instead, I can roll it. With the touchscreen, rolling isn’t an option. Plus, I can see exactly where I’ll be clicking before I commit to a click with the trackpad, whereas with the touchscreen, the cursor isn’t visible, unless I’m using the stylus.
            This is why I still have to do things like set Firefox’s density to “touch” or move the panel/taskbar over to the left and make it a little bigger than the default. It’s also why Microsoft made the fat right click menu in Windows 11.

  9. An iPad Pro variation running MacOS definitely makes sense for developers, enabling the capability to use the development toolchain and then test directly on the same device. From a tech-savvy consumer standpoint, it also gives access to the much richer variety of applications that you can’t find in the App Store. So, I’m sure that Apple would easily find a market for such a device. It is just a question of whether they think it would cannibalize the market for their existing products.